Not many might remember a development in Karachi around May 2008 that sent a chill down every god fearing (or just caring) human being's spine. Fed up with the deteriorating law and order situation in the city vigilante inflicted justice began to flourish and there was a series of episodes where robbers caught red handed were brutally murdered by the mob - in one case burnt alive. Images (disturbing images - discretion advised) published by Pakistani media shocked the nation and an outcry by those who believe in human rights brought this form of justice to an end before it took roots.
In the Upper Dir district of troubled North West of Pakistan a group of villagers took up arms against what has been reported as a group of Taliban and their supporters, razed their houses to the ground and killed four alleged militants. This is widely being reported as a positive development and that it could mark a return of Tribal Lashkars (literally meaning militias) to begin fighting against Taliban.
In a discussion on Pakistani security situation a friend raised a question that in North West Pakistan - where carrying arms is a local tradition and every household has a weapon of some sort, automatic assault weapons like Klashinkovs are widely and cheaply available - why don't people of every town and village pick up their arms and stand up against Taliban! This is a question that is raised by many but troubles me equally.
In the civilised world it is the duty of the state to provide security to its people and put in place institutions, mechanisms and tools to enforce law and order and justice for all citizens - whether they are in Karachi or Swat. When state fails to provide this security chaos ensues. Whereas the mobs in Karachi had no right to take law in their own hands and take life (even of those who committed crimes), it is also not right of anyone of us to expect citizens in the North West to take up arms to protect themselves.
Letting and asking common people to take law into their own hands can have other consequences as well. Over the last few decades we have seen religiously motivated mobs goaded by uneducated and hateful local mullahs murder those belonging to other sects or religions for the crime of committing blasphemy. We have also seen mobs being exploited by clever unscrupulous people to score personal vendettas and get away with murder.
I wouldn't like to see a group of MQM activists attacking a Pathan settlement in Karachi under the guise of attacking a Taliban hideout - a mob doesn't use brain - for them every Pushto speaking bearded man in a turban will be a Talib(an).
Vigilante justice has no place in a civilised world (all areas of Pakistan included).